Nowadays, the global transportation sector represents about one quarter of all direct carbon dioxide emissions. To remedy this, during the past few years, several national and supranational governments around the world have instigated policy regulations and financial incentives regarding research and development programs in order to help green hydrogen production, hydrogen infrastructures and fuel cell-powered electric vehicles thrive in the future.
Moreover, numerous R&D programs, strategic alliances and partnerships among vehicle manufacturers, equipment suppliers (OEM) and hydrogen- and fuel cell-related companies have blossomed, giving a strong insight into the structuring and strengthening of this specific market.
The last 10 years we witnessed a shift in technological interest in the automotive sector, with companies concentrating their R&D efforts and patenting activities on battery technologies. But with some as yet unresolved issues for electric vehicles (mileage autonomy, charging speed and safety to name a few), there was a revival in interest in fuel cell technology patent filings in the mid-2010s, with a CAGR of 18% between 2015 and 2021.
A sector boosted by the emergence of newcomers
With more than 30,000 patent families published in the past 20 years, hydrogen-based fuel cell technologies for road transportation (cars, trucks, buses) is a sector that has caught the attention of a lot of companies around the world. As in a lot of innovation-led industry sectors, Japanese players historically took over the fuel cell-related technological field in the 2000s, taking a quantitative approach in patenting activity.
Players such as car makers (Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mitsubishi, etc.), equipment suppliers (Aisin Seiki, Denso, Soken, etc.), device manufacturers (Panasonic/Sanyo, Hitachi, Toshiba, Murata/Sony, etc.) or material suppliers (Toppan Printing, Nippon Steel, Toray Industries, Sumitomo, etc.) have been active all along the value chain, from electrode materials and fuel cell stacks to system integration into vehicles. Other players have joined their Japanese counterparts in patent filings in that period, like US General Motors and Ford, German Daimler, Volkswagen/Audi, Bosch and BMW, and South Korean Hyundai/Kia, Samsung and LG.
More recently, the patenting activity is led by German vehicle manufacturers and Chinese newcomers, as a way to develop and diversify their businesses, for the former – Volkswagen/Audi, Bosch or BMW – and to take some market shares and develop fuel cell technologies, for the latter – vehicle manufacturers Grove Hydrogen Automotive, FAW China First Automotive Works, Dongfeng Motor, Yutong Bus or SAIC Group, and product devices sellers SinoHytec, Weichai Group, FTXT Energy Technology or Shanghai Shenli High Technology.